The Nile Project was founded in 2011 to address the Nile Basin’s cultural and environmental challenges, uniting musicians from across the region. Conflicts over the use of water between countries on the banks of the world’s longest river, the Nile, have a long history. Amid this background of tension, the Nile Project seeks to forge cultural links between all 11 nations. Mina Girgis, Ethnomusicologist and founder of the project explains how:
The Niles: Mina Girgis, what influence can music have when it comes to water-sharing in the Nile region?
Mina Girgis: Our music is not going to solve the Nile water dispute. But I hope it provides pointers to this collective creative framework. There are many brilliant people in the Nile Basin. What we really need is a framework to coordinate all of our efforts.
TN: How did musicians react when you started your project?
MG: There was a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm and we realised from there the Nile is a really deep identity marker for a lot of people. You talk to an Egyptian, a Sudanese, a Ugandan, or anyone from other countries and feel they are equally connected to the river – it’s meaningful to all of them. We feel the Nile creates a lot of cultural imagination and many people wouldn’t really think about their local watersheds if it wasn’t for something so ambitious that came to their doorstep: What’s going on in their own backyard? How can they relate whatever conversation we’re having about East Africa to what’s happening in their own county or state?
TN: And what is your answer to all these questions?
MG: Over the past five years, I’ve observed musicians collaborate on writing songs, scholars on developing academic research projects, and young entrepreneurs on solving food challenges. And I can safely say that Nile sustainability is fundamentally a team sport. Our project is pioneering a new approach to transform transboundary water conflicts by using music to ignite cross-cultural empathy and spark environmental curiosity.
TN: So music it the key to understanding?
MG: Not only. For many projects, music is the end result. But for us, it is just the beginning. The integration of music with youth leadership and innovation, we hope, will create a driving force that will change the way Nile citizens relate to each other and their shared ecosystem.
TN: And how does this sound?
MG: Our new album Jinja features artists from Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda. The album consists of ten original compositions born during the Nile Project’s second annual musicians gathering in Jinja, Uganda. Rather than speaking about it, I would highly recommend: Just listen to it.